A Pottery Studio Niche Gamble

Everyone says niching down is the best thing you can do for your business. But how far down should you niche? After starting Signature.email and it going nowhere for a number of months, at one point I decided I should focus on the education market, and try to get schools, colleges, and universities to use it. I changed the home page and pricing to reflect that. Crickets. That’s when I realized I had no knowledge of how to contact decision makers at schools, colleges, and universities, and there wasn’t enough search volume on those keywords alone to make the business go. Only after I un-niched it, put some more effort into launching it properly, and gaining some helpful links, did it finally (slowly) start to take off.

So it might seem that niching down didn’t work. But fact forward to today, even on Signature.email I maintain several landing pages such as email signatures for realtors, email signatures for non profits, and yes, even email signatures for colleges and schools. And these are effective landing pages that bring in many visitors and generate leads for the tool.

This Spring, I began a new experiment in niching down. I started working on a new idea: pottery studio management software. Can you get much more niche and specific than that? It’s not even for all pottery studios, really just those that are member based, and allow people to come in and use the space, wheels, clay, and kilns in a community sort of way. I was surprised that studios like that have some specific challenges and needs when it comes to collecting firing fees, membership fees, selling supplies, and selling classes.

This is a big gamble, while I have one studio on board already, I’m still unsure if I can sell to more pottery studios. There are some major differences in how I am approaching this business and niche than the last niche experiment I did with Signature.email:

  1. I can see their pain: Almost every pottery studio website I visit has a page about firing fees, and how they collect them. I can tell they are all using a hodgepodge of different ways of solving this problem.
  2. I have talked to them: I have talked to a number of pottery studio owners over the past months and I believe they are hungry for a solution that will help make managing things at their studio easier.
  3. I know where to advertise: When you have a small niche, knowing where to contact them becomes infinitely easier. There are very specific websites, reddit groups, and facebook groups where they hang out and chat about their work.
  4. I know how to contact them: I have already collected a number of emails and contact information for US based studios, and I also have learned a lot about using LinkedIn and other sales based tools for getting the word out about a product.
  5. The price is higher: This tool’s price is higher than a few bucks a month. So that can justify some direct sales and time to demo the software for pottery studio owners and managers.

So was niching down a good idea? Only time will tell if this has been a good gamble or not! Now the next phase is to put the product out there and listen intently to the feedback that comes back my way and let that shape the product to stand out in the market.

More Founder Than Freelancer

It’s been 2 years since I wrote on this blog, which is pitiful, because a lot has happened!

In July of 2019 I outlined some goals that included taking my own projects more seriously. Thankfully, I have been able to do that! Since then, my project Signature.email has grown significantly. It’s been slow growth in many ways, there has never been a defining moment when I feel like I have “made it”, but little but little this “side project” of mine has grown into something much more.

The tool now has thousands of customers and makes most of what I need to earn in a month, which is really exciting. That has always been my goal is to make something that people use and care about and will pay for. The product itself hasn’t changed exceptionally either, but it has been a series of optimizations and decisions over the past 2 years that have enabled the growth and to make it more useful.

The continued growth has enabled me to do a few things

First, I have been turning down a number of freelance projects. While making WordPress-based marketing websites has been my bread and butter for a long time, I’m fine with leaving that phase of my job mostly behind. I still have a few clients where I have built some complex portals for their dealers/customers, but we’ve even begun to think about what those long-term projects will look like without me in a year or so.

It has given me the time to focus on Signature.email. Support and sales do take up a good part of that time, which isn’t terrible, I actually enjoy being able to talk to my customers and find out their pain points and figure out how the tool can be improved, even with sales I still feel like I am refining how to best market and pitch the tool to potential customers. It can be overwhelming to jump into the code at times, knowing that if I screw something up, many people will notice and I could have a lot of angry customers.

Finally, it has freed me up to work on some other side projects. Tally Count, The Vote’s Out Game, Groundwork1, and the relaunch of Simple Estimate have all been possible over the past year because of some additional time I have in my schedule to work on new ideas and side projects.

New titles and transitions

Transitioning out of the “freelancer” part of my job is trickier than I thought it would be. I have built up some great relationships with clients over the last 7 years and established myself as a dependable expert in building websites and apps for my clients. I still have some steps to take to say goodbye to that and hand off some of my clients to others.

Transitioning into the “founder” part of my job is also a challenge. I used to call Signature.email a “side project”, which is certainly isn’t any more. I’m trying to take it more seriously as my job and knowing that it has a lot more potential to grow. This slower transition has been the ideal way to do it but sometimes I wonder if I am missing opportunities because I’m not spending 100% of my time on the product. Now that I have a successful product, does that mean I shouldn’t work on other side projects any more at all? I still love spinning up new things and toying with ideas, so I think there will always be some aspect of that.

Growing pains are good and show that I am adapting as things change around me. I think its been a good growth process and I’m looking forward to the next year to see how Signature.email continues to grow and also to launch a few more products.

New goals, new territory

For the first 8 years of my career I worked at Morsekode, a modern ad agency. I loved my time there, but after having my first kid I decided to leave and start freelancing to provide a better work life balance. Freelancing has been an amazing journey so far and I’ve been so thankful that I keep getting new clients. After doing that for four years now, I’m slowly starting to turn a corner where I have started to set some new goals. While I will still be freelancing for the foreseeable future, it may start to look a bit different over the next year.

I have learned over the past few years that I especially love two things:

  1. Designing User Interfaces for Software – Figuring out how a user comes into an application, what they click on, how they navigate, what functionality they need, is some of my favorite work. It is half design and half intuition. It’s not just about putting a pretty face on some data, but rather figuring out how the user will think as they use the application and work to accomplish their tasks. It is really challenging work, but also extremely fun.
  2. Developing Web Based Software – Coding web applications is hugely challenging, but also really rewarding. Working on the front end, back end and everything in between gives me a great degree of satisfaction in the product. I love that users become really invested in the application and have strong opinions about how it should work. Since learning Laravel and Vue.js and developing client applications over the last few years I finally feel confident enough to actually call myself a web application developer.

Having both of these loves is a bit unique, most people would choose one or the other, and not both. But I have come to believe that I can provide great value by doing both of these. I can rapidly prototype an application and get something off the ground in weeks rather than months or years. (even if there is a lot left to be done after that)

So knowing that these are my proficiencies, I am going to be focusing most of my business on these goals over the coming year:

  1. Designing and Developing Web Applications for Clients – It is so fun to hear about a client’s challenges and how software can help their company run in a more efficient manner. I love working with clients and figuring out their priorities and how we can accomplish their goals and collaborating every step of the way.
  2. Taking my Side Projects More Seriously – I have always had side projects. They are fun and challenge me to learn new things or take new risks. But I traditionally haven’t put much thought into building a business. I’m terrible at marketing, and I often don’t push a product enough to make it succeed. I’ve been learning a ton about this thanks to the online community as well as podcasts like Indie Hackers. I’m hoping that my next project could be the one that starts to become more of a business and less of a side project.

I’ve been thankful for a group of guys (our mastermind group) that I’ve been getting together with that have helped to clarify this vision and push me on my goals as I work to accomplish them. I’ll try to write an update in 6 months or so to see how I’m doing!

I suck at being a human on the web

After watching and listening to a lot of solo and early stage entrepreneurs lately, I’ve come to the realization that I suck at being a real relatable human on the web.

I’m not sure what caused this. Maybe it was years of working at an agency and always making things as polished and professional as I could for clients. Maybe it was something I started as a young adult, trying to do freelance web design as a high schooler trying to make my “company” sound bigger than it really was. Maybe its just having a family now and wanting to keep some thing private and personal for my own sake. Or maybe it’s being a freelancer and always feeling like my clients are looking over my shoulder and wondering why I’m not working on their project at that exact moment.

My Twitter posts for the past few years have basically been “Hey – I launched something, you should check it out…”. And then nothing after that. I wasn’t really a part of the greater community in general helping people out and commenting on their stuff. I didn’t tell anyone I was working on it, I didn’t share the challenges in creating it, and I didn’t ask anybody else’s opinion about it!

So forgive me. I’m learning.

My goals this year are to participate and share with the online maker community. I have wisdom I can share, and I need their collective wisdom to succeed at all. I can’t keep making things in a vacuum and expecting they will blow up as soon as I put them online.

Here are some of my goals in the coming year:

  1. To post one or two helpful or interesting tweets a day.
  2. To blog once a week about something I’ve learned, or something I’m struggling with as I work
  3. To participate in the MakerLog and IndieHackers websites a few times a week.
  4. To offer some things of great value on the web, for free, with no expectations of how they will benefit me or make money
  5. To continue promoting the MPLS Digital Makers meetup group